WJAR, an NBC television affiliate in Providence, recently trumpeted a trove of documents it obtained from Rhode Island's state police. They contain letters alleging old sex abuse claims against priests which the Diocese of Providence sent to the police over the past several years.
And while WJAR reporter Katie Davis proudly proclaimed the papers as "detailing sexual abuse by Rhode Island Roman Catholic priests," what is most noteworthy about the documents is the large number of bogus accusations and outright attempts of fraud against the Church, none of which was mentioned by Davis.
Media credence and mental illness
The documents contain a number of claims which are clearly untrue and even preposterous:
- an "obviously troubled individual" made "numerous calls" to the diocese claiming that a priest who had never been accused of anything was "a pedophile and had killed a young boy and buried him on the church property" (doc);
- a man left a phone message and claimed he had a list of "73 active priests" who may have molested children, but the man never responded to any return phone calls by the diocese seeking additional information (doc);
- a serial criminal whose crimes include manslaughter came forward to claim abuse by a priest decades earlier only after yet another warrant was issued for his arrest (doc1, doc2);
- a man claimed two dead priests abused him over three decades earlier, but he only came forward after he had compiled an "extensive criminal record" in both Rhode Island and Florida (doc);
- a woman under intense mental health treatment for nearly two decades came forward to make a claim of abuse of "unwanted and unsolicited hugging and kissing" by a priest back in the 1960s (doc);
Davis apparently embraced all of the allegations she read without expressing even an ounce of skepticism.
And days after airing her original story about the documents, Davis then presented a bizarre claim from a man in his 60s who did not report his allegation of abuse until 2013, nearly 48 years after he said it took place.
Saying he comes from a "dysfunctional family" and suffers from PTSD, the man relayed a surreal tale in which he claimed a priest took him to a public park and "forced him to drink from a Thermos," with the result that "the liquid inside left him drugged and unconscious."
The man also went on to claim, "People have asked me, would you rather have had that happen or gotten bitten by a shark? I'd rather have been bitten by a shark."
Think about that last one. Who on earth would ever ask such a odd question? Yet Davis enthusiastically embraced the man's claims without a hint of skepticism or even an attempt to fact check his claim.
And what of the priest whom this man accused of abusing him nearly a half a century ago? Well, we don't know, as he died a quarter century ago, in 1988, and is thus unable to defend himself or his reputation, a matter of little concern to Davis.
The ultimate counter-narrative story
The prevalence of false accusations against Catholic priests are much, much more common than the public has been led to believe. As we have recorded in the past, some abuse claims against priests are so blatantly bogus that one wonders what rational person would ever believe them.
But don't expect anytime soon a media story on false accusations against priests, as few in the journalistic community are ever brave enough to buck the trend and pursue a counter-narrative story.